Producer of Detroit podcast dances, sleeps outside - raises $83K for city's homeless

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It'd be an understatement to say fans of the Detroit Cast podcast are “engaged.”

Maybe they deserve a more motivated label?

“Our fans call themselves 'monsters,'” said Eric Fadie. “Our fans are so rabid.”

Whatever has stirred the deep-rooted loyalty of the podcast's fanbase is besides the point for the show's hosts Mike and Jay, or its producer Eric. Over the past two years, the 'monsters' have raised $83,000 to assist homelessness in metro Detroit - and that's just fine with them.

“The audiences are so leaned in and so involved,” said Mike Wolters, “This is not just something on their dial when they get in their car. They have to purposefully seek it out.”

The Detroit Cast has been airing for five years. Hosted by a lawyer and former radio host, the two discuss the day's biggest stories, local and national. Fadie said the podcast entertains a wide diversity of audiences. “We have listeners that are full on left and full on MAGA.”

Despite the slow growth that Wolters says makes it difficult to standout, the chemistry between the hosts has bred a cult following that keeps the show running. It's the combination of hyper-local guest appearances and edgier commentary that infuses a no-holds barred view on current events that Fadie attributes to the fanbase's loyalty.

So when Wolters approached the President of the South Oakland Shelter with the idea of utilizing that loyalty for charity and awareness, they set a conservative goal of $5,000.

“Their hope was to raise a couple thousand and also raise awareness,” said Ryan Hertz, who runs the South Oakland Shelter. “We didn't have the sense that people would be as generous as they would.”

The podcast's first charity drive placed Fadie in a tent outside in winter. He slept there for four nights and via small-dollar donations raised $32,000.

“The tent thing was definitely a stunt,” Fadie said. “We put the whole thing on Facebook and livestreamed it.”

Spying success, the Detroit Cast signed Fadie up for Detroit's Dancing with the Stars where he would go on to win in 2017 and 2018, and subsequently raise another $38,000. In 2019, another camp-out raised $12,000 more for the homeless cause.

Members of the Detroit Cast were concerned the charity drive would irritate their listeners. Asking people for money might drive away interest. To buffer potential annoyance, Fadie's livestream entertained visits from former Red Wing Darren McCarty and Vinnie Dombroski, the lead singer from the Detroit-based band Sponge. Instead, when Fadie combed through the analytics following the stream, he noticed the average viewing time was 25 minutes.

“If you're just non-stop in their face, they start giving,” said Fadie.

The South Oakland Shelter's budget is $4 million a year. At face value, $83,000 may feel like only a drop in the bucket. But it's how that money is donated that is more important than just the number of zero's in front of the decimal.

“There's lots of gaps in the funding system, and the significance of private fundraising for us is hard to come by,” said Ryan Hertz. “We value that unrestricted money even more.”

When the shelter receives funds, there's rules for how it can get spent. Despite the necessity for more beds, not all the money funneled to the South Oakland Shelter can be spent for that purpose. But when money comes in the form of a private donation via impressive dance moves, it can be used in any form.

“They've taken an issue that's stigmatized, that not a lot of people are thinking about, that is under-resourced,” Hertz said, “and encouraged people to reach their philanthropic issues.”

It's also a contribution that the shelter otherwise wouldn't have. Hertz said the Detroit Cast has provided more money to the shelter than the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).

Hertz said there's about 4,000 struggling with housing in Oakland County. While the South Oakland Shelter only has room to house 300 people, they provide direct services for almost 1,000 people. Hertz estimates it costs $10,000 to provide housing for somebody who is chronically homeless for one year.

“They've essentially provided 8 years of housing or services, or a year for each family,” said Hertz.